THREE Lothian MSPs have been promoted into the top positions in Labour’s shadow cabinet at Holyrood.
In a dramatic shake-up of her front-bench team, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont made Kezia Dugdale education spokeswoman, Neil Findlay health spokesman and gave her predecessor, Iain Gray, the finance portfolio. Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack retains her local government remit.
The appointments represent a meteoric rise for Ms Dugdale and Mr Findlay who were elected as list MSPs just two years ago and now find themselves leading the opposition in the Scottish Parliament’s two key areas of responsibility.
Ms Dugdale has been shadow youth employment minister since December 2011 and Mr Findlay shadow minister for learning and skills for the same period.
She said she was delighted with he new job. “I want to think seriously about Labour’s message on schools and tackling the big issues in further and higher education and how we finance it. I come from a background in further and higher education so that’s a familiar area for me, but I’m really excited about getting in and around early years because we know that’s what’s really vital. Every penny spent before a child is three can transform their life chances.”
Mr Findlay, who takes over the health role from the feisty Jackie Baillie, said: “I am a bit shocked but very proud to be asked to take on this post for Scottish Labour. The NHS is Labour’s greatest achievement. I look forward to working with the doctors, nurses, support staff and patients to ensure that our NHS remains a great service meeting the needs of people across Scotland.
“Under the SNP the health service is under real pressure, I intend to continue to scrutinise their policies and hold them to account to protect the NHS against further cuts and ease the pressure on an overstretched workforce.”
For Mr Gray, MSP for East Lothian, the finance job marks his return to the front line after a period on the backbenches after he stepped down as leader following Labour’s 2011 defeat.
He said: “I’m delighted to be back in the shadow cabinet and part of Johann’s team holding the SNP to account and preparing Labour’s programme towards the 2016 election.”
A party source said the appointments were bold ones and showed Ms Lamont was looking to the future. “Kez and Neil have both done really well, made an impact and shown they can master a brief. It’s a great opportunity for them.
“Jackie has done health for a long time and had some pretty big successes with things like waiting times, but it’s always good to freshen things up and moving her to social justice will increase its profile.”
Ms Lamont said: “We have made a great deal of progress in the last 18 months but we have to keep moving forward.
“I believe this refreshed team is the right blend of youth and experience which can take forward the job of modernising the Scottish Labour Party, holding the Scottish Government to account and building a new relationship with the people of Scotland and policies which meet their needs.”
Lamont’s new shadow cabinet
Finance: Iain Gray, top
Education: Kezia Dugdale, right
Health: Neil Findlay, above
Justice: Graeme Pearson
Infrastructure and capital investment: James Kelly
Constitution: Drew Smith
Justice, equalities and welfare: Jackie Baillie
Youth employment: Jenny Marra
Local government: Sarah Boyack
Culture: Patricia Ferguson
Rural affairs: Claire Baker
Business: Paul Martin